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Aorus' GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Edition 11G graphics card reviewed

The eagle has landed

Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti sets a new high-water mark for single-card graphics performance, but the company's Founders Edition cooler might leave some wanting in the noise, vibration, and harshness department. The centrifugal fan on that relatively compact heatsink sounds nice for a blower, and it has the perk of exhausting hot air directly from a case, but the card's 250W board power means those who want maximum performance and minimum noise won't find that nirvana from the Founders Edition cooler.

Happily, the Founders Edition isn't the only way to get a GTX 1080 Ti any longer. Nvidia's board partners have smoothed off the rough edges of the Founders Edition blower with a dizzying array of custom-cooled takes on the GTX 1080 Ti in the past couple weeks, and the first example of those efforts on our test bench is Gigabyte's Aorus GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Edition 11G.

The Gigabyte GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Gaming marked the introduction of the company's highest-performance heatsink for an air-cooled graphics card, and the company hasn't messed around too much with the basic design since. In fact, the chassis of the GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Edition 11G is basically the same as that of the GTX 1080 Xtreme Edition 8G we looked at recently. That's a good thing, since that Aorus GTX 1080 is among the finest graphics cards we've ever tested. The most noticeable external change is a subtle "GeForce GTX" stamped into the aluminum at the rear of the cooler.

If you're new to Aorus' highest-end cooler design, it's worth revisiting the basics. To start, the company moves air across the heatsink with three 100-mm fans that are cleverly staggered to reduce the graphics card's overall length. Those relatively large fans don't have to turn as fast as smaller spinners do, either, meaning potentially lower noise for the same amount of airflow.

That trio of fans moves air over a massive fin stack connected to five copper heat pipes. The cooler makes contact with the GP102 chip itself using a broad copper base plate that also cools the card's 11GB of GDDR5X RAM. The card's 12 power phases aren't cooled by this plate, but they are thermally coupled with the fin stack by several strategically-placed thermal pads. Gigabyte claims the irregular shape of the fins in the stack results in better thermal transfer compared to traditional vertical fins, as well.

Like the GTX 1080 Xtreme Edition before it, this Aorus GTX 1080 Ti boasts a couple sharp-looking RGB LED accents. A prominent Aorus badge on the side of the card lights up in any color one might want, while the company's eagle logo makes a bedazzling appearance on the back plate. The X-brace on the front of the card lights up in Technicolor, as well. The color and lighting style of those accents can be controlled using Aorus' Graphics Engine software.

The Xtreme Edition card features a slightly-redesigned version of the copper inlay that's becoming a hallmark of Aorus' graphics-card styling. The company has tempered its claims about the cooling performance this copper accent adds this time around, since independent testing of the feature didn't reveal any substantial difference in cooling performance on the similarly-equipped Aorus GTX 1080. Really, the extra copper just looks cool. Any extra thermal wicking it offers is a bonus.

The Xtreme Edition's display output block is also slightly different from that of its predecessors'. While Aorus still provides one front-mounted HDMI port for VR breakout boxes, it's moved the other HDMI port that used to reside up front to the rear port cluster.

With this change, folks have the choice between running monitors from the card's primary HDMI port and its DVI-D output or from both of its rear HDMI ports. I think that's probably a better-balanced approach than having two front-panel HDMI ports.

  GPU base
core clock
GPU boost
GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition 1480 1582 2750 11264
Aorus GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Edition 11G (gaming mode) 1607 1721 2808
Aorus GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Edition 11G (OC mode) 1632 1746 2862

Compared to the reference GTX 1080 Ti, Gigabyte applies a solid factory boost to the Xtreme Edition 11G's GPU. In its default "gaming mode," the Aorus card sports a 1607 MHz base speed and a 1721 MHz boost clock. An "OC mode" ups those speeds to 1632 MHz base and 1746 MHz boost. Both of Aorus' factory clock speed profiles give the Xtreme Edition 11G a nice boost in memory speeds over the Founders Edition card's 11 GT/s effective rate, as well.

As we've learned to expect from any Pascal card, however, these figures are pretty meaningless once Nvidia's GPU Boost 3.0 frequency-scaling algorithm has its way. It's far more valuable to concentrate on the delivered clock speeds that Aorus' massive cooler allows for with GPU Boost. We'll quantify those in a sec.

The Aorus GTX 1080 Ti Xtreme Edition 11G rings in at $750 compared to the Founders Edition card's $700 price tag. Aorus offers a total of four years of warranty coverage with registration, or three years without—both figures worthy of a high-end card. Let's see if the $50 premium over Nvidia's reference design is worth it now.